Lewiston councilors pass tax rate increase, staff and service cuts

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LEWISTON — Service cuts, staff layoffs and some budget wizardry were not enough to stave off a 50-cent tax increase Tuesday night.

City councilors voted 4-3 to adopt the fiscal year 2010-11 budget, which raises the property tax rate by 50 cents per $1,000 of property value and lays off 10 employees.

It was enough to disappoint everyone.

“When we started this in March, I said I didn’t want to see any layoffs,” said Councilor John Butler. “As we can see, every department was hit by this budget.”

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Councilor Larry Poulin, one of three who voted against the budget, said he felt the city could do better. He argued for no tax increase.

“I value all of our employees, and I don’t want to have to lay off any of them,” Poulin said. “But my commitment is to the taxpayers and the voters.”

The new budget will mean a property tax increase of about $75 on a $150,000 home.

Councilors began working in March to reduce a $43.6 million spending plan. That budget was a slight decrease compared to the current budget. Thanks to reductions in state revenue sharing and other revenue shortfalls, the original budget would have increased property taxes by about $150 on a $150,000 home.

Councilors have since reduced expenditures by $625,000. The bulk of that came last week when they voted to eliminate 22 positions. That included laying off 10 city employees: Public Works Director Paul Boudreau, Fire Battalion Chief Bruce McKay and eight others who have the right to bump employees of a lesser grade out of their jobs.

All that was left for councilors was to approve the budget and the property tax appropriation. It passed, with councilors Poulin, Ron Jean and Renee Bernier voting against it.

Councilors also approved a 15 percent water rate increase, despite concern from councilors and residents. The increase will add a $1.60 per month to the bills of most residential customers.

Councilors initially turned back a proposal to increase the storm water fee by 10 percent, from $40 per year to $44 for the average home, but approved it on a second vote.

“We’ve got increases in taxes, we just increased water rates and now this,” Bernier said. “How much more are the people expected to take?”

Councilors Poulin, Mark Cayer and Stephen Morgan joined Bernier in voting down that increase.

Without the increase, the budget would have been cut by $165,000. That would have canceled six culvert projects and eliminated the department’s storm-sewer contingency fund.

Councilors reconsidered the storm water fee increase, and passed it 4-3 on the second attempt — with Councilor Morgan changing his vote.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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